"We designed the Accenture EmployAbility Cadetship Programme to help create meaningful career opportunities for people with disabilities within the information and communications technology (ICT) sector," says Khethiwe Nkuna, CSI and responsible business lead for Accenture in Africa.

"The 19 learners who have graduated today are now highly skilled and motivated artisans who will be able to participate meaningfully in the economy and uplift their communities," Nkuna adds.

The programme aims to serve as the best vehicle for attracting and retaining people with disabilities into the ICT sector and ensuring that more sustainable career opportunities are generated. Candidates obtain the theoretical grounding and on-the-job practical experience required for the current technological era.

Emboldening and encouraging the graduates was guest speaker Dr Matete Lertula. The PhD graduate, with a doctorate in business leadership student and author, gave words of encouragement about embracing your purpose from her most recent book, Walking in your Divine Purpose.

"Cadets start with the Further Education and Training Certificate in Project Management (NQF Level 4) so that they gain project and self-management skills," says Lyn Mansour, CEO of KLM Empowered.

"They then move on to the National Certificate in IT Systems Development (NQF Level 5), which focuses on coding, AI and app development. And in their third year, they complete the National Diploma in Project Management (NQF Level 5), so that as developers they understand how to manage the implementation of new software or systems, and manage change effectively," Mansour adds.

According to KLM Empowered, the programme is about more than just education — it is also about employment.

"We call it a cadetship because it does more than develop a set of skills over three years. Learners also go through a rigorous work readiness programme where they develop behavioural skills like emotional intelligence, relationship management, personal effectiveness and critical thinking," says Mansour.

"They participate in several masterclasses, introducing them to new, disruptive technologies and empowering them with future-focused skills. And they complete many international IT certifications along the way. Through all of this, we exponentially enhance their employability so that by the end of their cadetship, they are seriously in demand as individuals," adds Mansour.

On completion, learners go through an 18-month internship programme within Accenture. This practical approach is the best way of ensuring that the programme creates sustainable and career-focused employment instead of ad-hoc temporary work opportunities. Currently, nine candidates from this group are interning with Accenture.

"We believe in giving these young people a hand up, not a handout. It is an opportunity for them to disassociate themselves from the stigma that comes with living with a disability and allowing them to develop skills and face challenges with the mindset of a young person without feeling particularly disadvantaged," Nkuna says.

Since 2021, the format of the cadetship has changed to a two-year programme to keep pace with the changing technology arena. In the current cohort, 10 learners are ready to enter their second year, and another 15 will enter their second year later.

All interested potential candidates are encouraged to contact Portia Matuludi to find out about the next intake and other opportunities.

Accenture Research reveals that it pays to be inclusive. When companies create an inclusive culture for persons with disabilities, everyone benefits, says Accenture. Companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities in their workforces have outperformed their peers.

"Our vision is to create a barrier-free environment by investing in and developing this untapped talent — and we've seen some amazing success stories so far," Nkuna says.

"At Accenture, we welcome people with different capabilities, perspectives and experiences. We believe that this diversity emanates in novel ideas and approaches to business challenges, a higher level of innovative thinking and more varied tactics that help achieve greater levels of success," says Nkuna.

"We're not only opening more opportunities for people with disabilities in South Africa but developing them with industry-relevant skills that can be used anywhere they decide to work," Nkuna concludes.

For more information, visit www.accenture.com. You can also follow Accenture on Facebook or on Twitter.